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Prisons as Mental Hospitals

November 2, 2012

http://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/07/opinion/prisons-as-mental-hospitals.html

Prisons as Mental Hospitals
The article I chose was a little outdated, but was regarding an issue that I think is so interesting and under-reported. It spoke about the treatment of prisoners that are mentally ill after they are released from their incarceration.

In the year 1999, Rikers Island prison had over 25,000 mentally ill prisoners, and during their time in jail they can get medication, counseling, and shelter. Many of these people are arrested repeatedly, for acting out or other symptoms of their illness, and then released without any help, only to be picked up again soon after for the same reasons. They said one plan of action was dropping the prisoners off after release with a metro card downtown, which reminded me of the “Greyhound Therapy” we spoke of in class. This is not a solution or a plan of action to help these people, it is only a way of these prisons dumping people and continuing to not take responsibility for their city and its people.

In the article, it says that advocates for these mentally ill prisoners filed a lawsuit to force the city to release prisoners with a plan for the continuation of their therapy and treatment, so that they may get better and not continue on this never-ending cycle. Like we spoke of in class, many times homelessness and mental illness are seen like “hand-in-hand”, so many of these people are not only getting treatment at this prisons, but also shelter that they lack in their daily lives. When they are in Rikers, or other facilities, they are housed and given medication, but when they are dumped out in the downtown square area, they are given no more than a goodbye ticket and enough medication to control their symptoms to “tide them over until they can get a prescription”. But what mentally ill person who is possibly homeless can afford this? No health care, no funds, and a prescription that will cost them much more than they can make on the street in a short time, so they are left with a gap without medication, leading to their next outburst or crime that will land them back in prison where they started. Some people in the article had had 25, 30 stays at the prison, because once they were released they were shortly picked back up to return.

While the city says that it will be too expensive to fulfill these wishes, this article makes the great point that the costs of letting them out is much more! They need to consider the cost it takes to keep returning people to jail, between the police and their stays at the prison, rather than the cost of helping them with a plan to not keep returning them to jail over and over. Also, they need to keep in mind the safety of the other people and property in the city, and how inhumane it is to dump someone back on the streets. I think that the stigma attached to mental illness is still extremely clear here, because if these people had a broken bone or cut, they would be treated and released, not dumped with an open wound. But these prison guards and wardens clearly don’t understand the severity of mental illness, and don’t understand that it is the exact same type of idea, and these people deserve to receive medical attention.

Anna Vendrasco

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